The good, the bad, and bureaucracy

Bureaucracy! This word is often used in frustration. Sometimes the word seems to be worse than any of the cuss words we use. But what is bureaucracy? And can we turn it in to something good for an HR department?

What is bureaucracy?

The word bureaucracy is commonly used to describe the strict way a governmental institution works in order to answer questions or solve issues. Another word typically associated with this situation is red tapeThere are plenty of comic sketches illustrating the bad and inefficient sides of bureaucracy; the best one being a famous Dutch commercial about a girl that lost her purple plastic crocodile at a swimming pool and wants to get it back. Her mom gets frustrated with forms and procedures even though the crocodile is in plain sight. Equally funny but slightly less on the subject of bureaucracy are the English sketches containing the phrase “Computer says no” by Little Britain.We can all think of a situation like this and remember the associated anger and disbelief. Believe it or not, bureaucracy started out as something good. In order to find out what went wrong we need to go back in time. (If you don’t like a history lesson, skip to “Bureaucracy and HR” below)

Who invented such an ugly thing!?!

While no-one can really claim to have invented bureaucracy, a German sociologist named Max Weber was one of the first to describe it in a scientific way. And believe it or not; he described it as an efficient form of organization…….. OK, when you are done laughing let’s actually delve into Max’s ideas instead of simply misquoting one of the great thinkers of his time.

Back then, things were changing from a classic farm-village society into a a more industrial-city orientated society. Instead of dealing with your friendly neighbors (which were more often than not related as well), you come to a city full of people you have never met and not knowing how to arrange things. In order to deal with the influx of new citizens in an efficient way, the local administrations began to standardize processes. This had the added benefit of treating everyone the same, preventing clientelism.

Max- sociologist and all round smart guy with trendy beard

Karl Emil Maximilian (Max) Weber was one of the great thinkers of this time and saw the first forms of bureaucracy as an efficient form of organization with a well-defined line of authority. It had clear rules and regulations which were strictly followed. In an ideal world, this meant that regular governmental employees could help anyone at their desk, simply following the rules which would ensure a fair treatment to everyone. But Weber, being a smart guy, also saw the danger of bureaucracy which he called the iron cage.  To keep things short, he predicted that bureaucracy would become what we believe it to be now, if people forgot that it is simply a tool to help people instead of a dogma of efficiency which should be followed no matter what.

Bureaucracy and HR

With the history lesson done, it’s time to look at what HR can learn from Max and his bureaucracy. In HR, we have seen an increase in the amount of technology we use to provide service to our clients (your colleagues 😉 ). Some of you know it as e-HRM, but if we look in a broader spectrum it is called service management. HR teams use software to provide information to their colleagues, which enables them to ask questions about their paychecks or inform us of changes in their personal situation. For simple questions and requests, bureaucracy can help to bring standardized processes and help colleagues in a fast and efficient way. However, and this is where we can truly learn from Weber’s teachings, we should never see the standardized process as something which can not be changed or made an exception on!

As an HR department, it is your duty to provide a great service to your colleagues, so they can focus on their own job without worrying about HR-side-stuff. Sometimes, this means you provide a standard answer or service to a simple question, but other times you should recognize that the question does not fit in your standardized process. Instead of forcing the question into one of the standard solutions, try to think of your colleague behind the question and how you can best help him or her. Making exceptions and providing bespoke solutions should be part of your HR arsenal in order to help your colleagues enjoy their work and function better.

My simple advise for a great HR service solution

Looking at the positive sides of bureaucracy, and taking the dangers into account, we can come up with two basic tips:

  • Provide your colleagues with information so they can find their own answers if they wish to. Obviously you do this digitally in this day and age, through a nice service portal. People are used to search for their own answers (thank you Google!) so help them find the information. As an added bonus, this will save you a lot of time and prevent the less challenging work of answering these basic questions.
  • With the time you saved above, you make sure you provide bespoke solutions for the situations which require your HR view. Truly help your colleagues with their questions, problems and requests instead of trying to answer questions as quickly as possible. Try to search for the question behind the question asked, and look for opportunities to improve your HR services where possible.

With these simple tips you can use the good parts of bureaucracy to save time and provide efficient service, while keeping an eye on the dangers of the red-taped-iron-cage. And maybe, just maybe, we will use the word bureaucracy in a more positive (or at least neutral) way in the future.

Please share your advise on great HR services if you have any. If not, I am sure you can share horrible examples of bureaucracy that will help us remember how we should not practice our work as HR professional.

A few tips for employer branding on Facebook

employer branding on social media

Referral recruitment

Referral recruitment is great. For years it has been the best source of recruitment at TOPdesk and I know this is the same for many other companies. Not only is it a fast and cost-friendly way of getting applications on your vacancies, it also supplies candidates that are more likely to fit in your company culture. Referral recruitment has been a good way of recruiting talented people before HR and recruitment used social media, and it might have become even better now that companies and employees are active on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

In order to get the referrals coming in, you need to make it easy for your employees to share your vacancies and news on social media. It is important to have a good company page and a few people that know a thing or two about social media, communications and employer branding to maintain that page. At TOPdesk, we have focused on quality instead of quantity of posts, in order to steadily build up the amount of followers. This way we have created an employer brand we feel comfortable with.

Recently we have launched a new recruitment website and shared it on Facebook. The post showed in some of our timelines but not on all of our timelines. We then paid for the post to show up in the timelines of friends and friends of friends in order to boost results. This led to some really nice reactions and applications. It also got me thinking on how the Facebook sharing system works and why posts don’t show up on the timeline of all the people that follow the company page. I did some internet research and found a very interesting video on Youtube by Veritasium which explains exactly how devious the Facebook system is.

So what have we learned by watching this great video? Let’s sum it up:

  • We now have ‘proof’ that shows big ad companies such as Facebook have brilliant strategies to generate revenue, sometimes at the cost of their users.
  • The posts you make through a company page don’t automatically reach all of your followers. It depends on the amount of engagement of the first few people that do see it shown in their timeline.
  • It is better to have a limited amount of followers that actually like and comment on your posts, than it is to have many followers that don’t interact at all. You will actually reach more people that way.

A tip for employer branding on social media

My tip to you is: Built an honest social media presence based on actual content instead of spamming people with all kinds of marketing material. Not only will you annoy less people on the internet, you will actually reach more people in the long run because the posts will generate more engagement. Which in turn will lead to more employee referral and more suitable potential employees!


Hats off to the colleagues in the social media team at TOPdesk, for doing such a wonderful job and providing me with some insights so I could write this post.

The Secret to Satisfied Employees

A talk on satisfied employees at TedX Delft

The secret to satisfied employees

Remember my post a while back discussing the secret to employee satisfaction? Well I have a great addition I want to share with you. Recently one of our directors, Wolter Smit, was asked to give a presentation at a local TedX event about passion at work and our secret to satisfied employees. During the talk he explains why trust is fundamental to (our) employee satisfaction, and gives more insight on our HR strategy. Enjoy!

What is a Learning Organization?

Article by Lizanne Schippers
Article by Lizanne Schipper on Learning in Organizations in the NRC Next.

A colleague and I had an interview with a journalist last week for an article in the NRC-Next newspaper. The image above shows the actual article (including my colleague reading a book) in the newspaper. The subject of the article was learning in an organization; What do organizations do to stimulate their employees in order to keep learning. It tells the story of a few young professionals and what they do in order to keep learning while they work.

The article also shows a list of the top 20 Most Learning Organizations. And this is a zoomed shot of the list with the most learning organizations in a research done by Satisaction for the newspaper:

TOPdesk scores #2 in research for the Most Learning Organizations
TOP 20 Learning Organizations

That’s right, TOPdesk reached second place in the Most Learning Organizations research! How do we do that? I will give you a couple of things I think contribute to being a Learning Organization.

How do you become a learning organization?

Having different forms of budgets helps, but it is not what is most important. At TOPdesk we have several types of budgets so colleagues can buy books, follow courses or visit conventions. These help stimulate learning in an organizations. Every organization can, and should, do this one way or the other. But just having a budget won’t transform your organization in a thriving and learning one.

One of the most important things for your organizations is stimulating people to try new things and allow them to make mistakes. Give them the freedom to discover new things, which can be good for the company. And if something happens to go wrong, just talk about what went wrong. Don’t be angry with people that tried and failed, stimulate them to learn from it and keep trying. It is the exact opposite of a blame culture, where people try to cover up mistakes, or even worse, try to pin the blame on others. If your organization can be open about mistakes (which everyone makes regularly) your organization will learn more and have a better work atmosphere as a bonus.

In TOPdesk, most team leaders are both the coach and the person appraising their colleagues. This situation has a natural tension where people should talk with their coach about the things bothering them or ask their coach for help, while that same coach is the one appraising them every year. This can only work if you are very open about mistakes and have a strong trust component in your culture. And that is what makes a Learning Organization in my opinion.

How making your employees happy can make you rich

I won’t be writing much in this article, but there is a lot of wisdom to be found here. Wisdom by one of the most famous entrepreneurs in South America. His name is Ricardo Semler and he has inspiring views on how to run a business. And its not just fancy words either; his ideas on HR have made his companies and organizations very successful and made him very rich in the process.

Who is Ricardo Sempler?

Tegenlicht, a Dutch documentary program by the VPRO, had the unique opportunity to interview Ricardo Semler and visit his extraordinary house and companies. In the video, Ricardo Semler explains how being a young rock musician inspired him to run a machinery company in Brazil in a revolutionary way. He gives his employees complete freedom and responsibility, and they repay him by making the company very successful while enjoying their job. I see a lot of resemblance to our own company values at TOPdesk, where freedom and responsibility are 2 of the 3 company values, trust being the third. Those company values are part of our success as well.

Even though the subtitles and some of the voice-overs are in Dutch, the video can be watched by English speaking people as well, since the interview parts of the program are in English. You can watch the documentary if you click on the image below:

Happy employees make you rich


If you want to see the full and uncut English interview, it has been posted by Tegenlicht on Youtube as well.


What do you think: Has Ricardo Semler been very lucky, or is there wisdom in his words which other companies and organization can adopt to become a success?